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Juror Who Ruled in Depp-Heard Trial Was Never Summoned, Opening Door for Mistrial [UPDATED]

Heard is also being sued by an insurance company who hopes to avoid paying her legal fees and any of the $10.35 awarded to Depp

juror amber heard johnny depp trial never summoned mistrial same name
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, photos via Getty Images
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    One of the jurors who ruled against Amber Heard in the defamation suit brought by Johnny Depp was never summoned for jury duty, according to a new filing from Heard’s legal team (via Deadline).

    A seven-person jury consisting of five men and two women awarded Depp $10.35 million, finding that his ex-wife’s 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post damaged his reputation, even though Heard never mentioned him explicitly by name. But it seems now that one of those jurors should never have been selected.

    “Juror No. 15 was not, in fact, the same individual as listed on the jury panel,” attorney Elaine Bredehoft wrote. “Ms. Heard’s due process was therefore compromised. Under these circumstances, a mistrial should be declared, and a new trial ordered.”

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    In April, a summons was sent to a Virginia resident. But according to the filing, there were two individuals at the address with the same last name: a 77-year-old and a 52-year-old. The 77-year-old was called for jury duty, but the 52-year-old showed up.

    “Thus, the 52-year-old [redacted] sitting on the jury for six weeks was never summoned for jury duty on April 11 and did not ‘appear in the list,’ as required,” the filing continued, blocking out the names of the individuals to protect their identities.

    At this time it’s unclear how the mixup could have been allowed, and whether officers and clerks of the court failed to check IDs or were fooled by fakes. The filing notes that someone representing the summoned juror filled out an online information form to confirm that they had been born in 1945, and implies that the 52-year-old knowingly impersonated the 77-year-old’s identity.

    “Virginia has in place statutory code provisions designed to ensure the person called for jury duty is the person arriving for jury duty,” the filing adds. “Fairfax County’s Juror Questionnaire webpage furthers this goal by requiring all County residents to login using their 7-digit Juror number, Zip code, and Birth Date… Those safeguards are in place and relied upon by the parties to verify the identity of the correct juror, to ensure due process and a fair trial for all litigants. When these safeguards are circumvented or not followed, as appears to be the case here, the right to a jury trial and due process are undermined and compromised.”

    Update: Depp’s legal team has responded in a lengthy memo. It does not dispute the discrepancy in Juror 15’s age, but instead claims, “Virginia law is clear that a verdict is not to be set aside unless it is ‘plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.’ Here, the verdict was well supported by the overwhelming evidence, consistent with the law, and should not be set aside.”

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    Besides that, his lawyers argue that Heard had ample opportunity to bring up this issue before the jury reached its verdict. “She had more than enough time before the trial started, and during the six-week trial, when at least two alternates were available, to investigate and discover the alleged ‘new’ facts. Clearly, Ms. Heard waived any right to allege ‘new’ facts she chose not to investigate for so long, much less to demand the extraordinary remedy of a mistrial.” It continues, “Mr. Depp respectfully submits that the Court should deny Ms. Heard’s Post-Trial Motions, which verge into the frivolous.”

    This is just the latest controversy involving this jury. The court stenographer claimed to see “jurors dozing off” during the trial, and during deliberations, they asked the judge to clarify whether they should consider the full op-ed or just the headline, seemingly not understanding the whole basis for the six-week trial. They also failed to properly fill out the verdict form and had to redo it.

    The Virginia courts have yet to respond to the filing. But it could breathe new life into Heard’s efforts to overturn the ruling, which stalled out after Judge Penney Azcarate ordered her to put up an $8.3 million bond before she could appeal. Heard previously noted that she cannot afford to pay the $10 million award, and she may not be able to come up with the bond.

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    Her situation may be even more precarious than previously known. As Law and Crime reports, an insurance company has sued Heard to avoid paying the judgment or legal fees. The New York Marine and General Insurance Company insured Heard with a $1 million policy from July 18th, 2018 through July 18th, 2019, during the period when she wrote the op-ed.

    New York Marine and General noted in their lawsuit that “an insurer is not liable for a loss caused by the willful act of the insured[.]” Because the Virginia jury ruled that Heard acted with actual malice, the insurer is claiming that the op-ed meets the definition of a “willful act,” and that they are not on the hook for the $1 million coverage. If Heard is able to secure a mistrial, this insurance lawsuit will likely also go away.

    In her first post-trial interview, Heard said she “doesn’t blame the jury” because the trial wasn’t “fair,” though she may want to amend that if one of the jurors is confirmed to be an imposter. She also said that she still has “love” for Depp, and bears him no “bad feelings or ill will.”

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    As for Depp, he recently announced a reunion with The Hollywood Vampires, his supergroup with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, and later this week he’s expected to drop 18his collaborative album with Jeff Beck.

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